Main An Amish Christmas Kitchen

An Amish Christmas Kitchen

This cheerful and heartwarming Amish novella collection captures the heart of the Christmas season with a trio of heartfelt stories from bestselling authors Leslie Gould, Jan Drexler, and Kate Lloyd. All three tales feature a unique Amish recipe perfect for the Christmas table!Formats : EPUB, PDF
Year: 2017
Language: english
ISBN 13: 9781493421732
File: EPUB, 5.86 MB
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An Amish Christmas Kitchen

Year: 2017
Language: english
File: PDF, 3.51 MB

Exquisite Mariposa

Year: 2018
Language: english
File: EPUB, 754 KB
An Amish Family Christmas © 2019 by Leslie Gould

An Amish Christmas Recipe Box © 2019 by Jan Drexler

An Unexpected Christmas Gift © 2019 by Kate Lloyd

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Ebook edition created 2019

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4934-2173-2

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the authors’ imaginations and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by Koechel Peterson & Associates, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota/Jon Godfredson

Leslie Gould is represented by Natasha Kern Literary Agency.Jan Drexler is represented by WordServe Literary Group. Kate Lloyd is represented by MacGregor Literary, Inc.



Title Page

Copyright Page

An Amish Family Christmas (Leslie Gould)

An Amish Christmas Recipe Box (Jan Drexler)

An Unexpected Christmas Gift (Kate Lloyd)

About the Authors

Back Ads

Back Cover













For my husband,


who makes Christmas

magical every year.


The vase slipped through Noelle’s hand and shattered on the Kicha floor.

Just as her heart had been broken.

“What was that?” Dat asked from his chair in the living room.

“Just an old vase.” Noelle stared at the shards of red glass. “Nothing, really.” The vase was a gift from Jesse King before he moved to Montana.

Just the night before, as Noelle moved the last of her things out of the Dawdi Haus, her oldest sister, Salome, said she’d heard Jesse had returned to Lancaster County from Montana. “He’s hoping to get a job at the Christmas Market,” Salome had said.

Noelle felt ill as she stepped around the glass and headed for the broom closet. After three years, just like that, Jesse King had returned.

After she dumped the glass in the trash, she returned to the boxes stacked on the counter. The next one was the set of china her parents had given her back when she was courting Jesse. She slammed the lid down. The box would go in the back of her closet. She’d label it “Do Not Open Again.” She moved on to a box of whisks, wooden spoons, and measuring cups.

The new house smelled of wood and fresh paint and the sweet creamsticks she’d just pulled out of the Offa, from a recipe that called for baking them instead of frying. She and Dat had their rooms set up, but she had a lot of unpacking to do in order to truly make it a home. And most importantly of all, she needed to get the kitchen set up. It had always been the heart of their home, and even though Mamm was now gone, that wouldn’t change.

The Christmas Market, all five weeks of it, was the Schrock family’s busiest time of the year. From March through the weekend before Thanksgiving, they participated in the Country Market on Saturdays, which was lucrative. But the Christmas Market, held at the same place and on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, brought in as much money as the other months combined. The family baked goods business had to go on, even though Mamm was no longer here to make sure it all ran smoothly.

It had been three months since Mamm died, and the grief was still as sharp as the broken glass. The pain hadn’t lessened one bit; in fact, it had only grown stronger, much to Noelle’s embarrassment. She’d been taught to accept the ways of God, to know He knew best with life and death. But every minute of the day, Noelle missed Mamm. It was the worst when she baked. She’d imagine Mamm beside her, her gray hair tucked under her Kapp, her wrinkled hands kneading bread dough, rolling out piecrusts, mixing fillings. The memories pierced her heart—but not enough to avoid baking. Jah, she missed Mamm, but she also felt her love and comfort the most clearly in the kitchen.

No doubt about it, she’d had one loss after another. Mamm’s stroke. Noelle’s fight with Jesse. Jesse going to Montana. Jesse staying in Montana. Her estrangement from her niece, Moriah. And then Mamm’s death just before it was time to harvest the corn. At times, it all felt like too much.

Of course, she told others that she was doing fine. That God was in control. That she missed her Mamm, but the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

And if anyone asked, she said she was long over Jesse. She tried to convince herself of that too. But in truth, she doubted she ever would be. He’d hurt her too deeply.

Dat shuffled unsteadily toward her, his long white beard flowing over his belly. He carried his empty coffee cup in one hand, and she quickly took it from him.

“If only I would have known how much I was going to need you back when you were first born,” he said.

Her Dat had a way of reminding Noelle, over and over, what a surprise she’d been nearly twenty-two years ago. Before she could form a reply, footsteps fell on the front porch and then a knock landed on the door.

She opened it to find her brother-in-law, Ted, leaning on his cane as a gust of icy wind assaulted her. Behind him, their Lancaster County farm looked like a Christmas greeting card, flocked in Shnay, as the first rays of light fell over the landscape. It was Noelle’s favorite time of year.

She squinted. A van idled in the driveway.

Ted gestured toward it. “Salome threw her back out. She needs you to run the booth today.”

Noelle shuddered. What if Jesse was at the market? “I’m unpacking,” she said. “Can Moriah do it?”

Ted shook his head. “She needs to help Salome.” Moriah was Ted and Salome’s twenty-two-year-old daughter. Noelle and Moriah were practically raised as twins, which made their current conflict all the more unsettling.

Noelle squared her shoulders. She wasn’t used to challenging her brother-in-law. “I don’t want to leave Dat alone when—”

Dat cut her off. “Go ahead. I will be fine.”

Noelle’s shoulders slumped. She’d avoided helping with the booth for a few years now. She was horrible at selling. Her job was to do the baking. And, above all, she didn’t want to see Jesse.

However, missing the second Saturday of the Christmas Market would be a big hit to the business. She had to go—it was her duty to help her family. “Just a minute. I’ll change my apron.”

Ted gave her a nod, rubbed his hands together, and then headed toward the kitchen counter. “Mind if I have a creamstick?”

“Go ahead,” Noelle answered as she headed down the hall to her room.

She put Jesse out of her mind, as best she could. But she dreaded bumping elbows with a crowd of local Englischers and out-of-state tourists all day too.

She put on a fresh Kapp and a clean apron and determined, regardless of her stomach, which was growing more and more upset, to do what she needed to. When she came back down the hall, Dat stood at the kitchen counter with two slices of bread and a jar of peanut butter spread in front of him. “You will need a sandwich,” he said.

Surprised, Noelle answered, “Denki.” It wasn’t like her father to think of her needs.

He made the sandwich while she put on her boots, slipped into her coat, and grabbed her purse. Then Dat handed her a brown bag. “I put an orange in it too.”

She thanked him again and met his eyes. “The market doesn’t close until six.”

Dat nodded. “I will be fine. We will eat when you return.”

She stepped out the door. The exhaust from the van billowed out into the cold, and the icy wind stung her face. The weather forecast was for a weeklong cold spell with more snow.

Ted sat in the passenger seat of the van, licking his fingers, so Noelle climbed into the middle seat. She didn’t recognize the driver—a woman Ted introduced as Pamela—but he seemed well acquainted with her. The driver dropped him off at the Dawdi Haus behind the original farmhouse on the Schrock property.

“I’m sorry about your mother,” Pamela said as she turned the van around. “Salome said you were a big help in caring for her.”

Noelle wasn’t sure what to say. It worried her to know Salome talked about her to a stranger. Her sister was known for her constant gossiping, and Noelle didn’t trust her.

Plus Salome had used the word help in talking with Pamela, as if Salome had been in charge of Mamm. It was Noelle who had seen to her care, along with Dat. True, Salome liked to barge in as if she were in charge, but it was Noelle who’d done all of the work.

Pamela turned onto the highway. “So you and your father just moved into the new house?”

“That’s right,” Noelle answered, soaking in the view of the snowy fields on either side, appreciating the winter wonderland around her. Salome and Ted’s oldest, Paul, now farmed the land. Paul and his wife already had four little ones, so it made sense for them to live in the big house. The new house, the one she and Dat had just moved into, was essentially a second Dawdi Haus, although it sat by itself on the southeast plot of land.

Noelle had lived in the big house as a baby. By the time she was in school, Ted and Salome and their children occupied it, because Noelle and her parents had moved into the Dawdi Haus after the last of her eight older sisters left home. By then Noelle already had a score of nieces and nephews.

Now all of the older ones were married, except for Moriah, who was a widow. Of course there were many who were younger than Noelle was too, all the way down to infants, and now there were great-nieces and great-nephews too.

Time seemed to march on for everyone but her. Family and friends all around her were growing up, getting married, and starting families while she’d been frozen, as solidly as the icicles hanging from the eaves of the farmhouses they passed by, for the last three years.

They arrived at the market by eight-thirty, parking in the back among the other vans, cars, and buggies. Noelle only had a half hour to unload and set up the booth. Thankfully, Pamela grabbed a dolly just outside the door of the market and began stacking plastic crates, explaining, “Salome pays me extra to do the heavy lifting. She’s been having pain in her back for a while.”

Noelle grabbed a crate of whoopie pies and followed Pamela. Salome had complained some about her back, using it as one of her excuses to not help lift Mamm, but Noelle hadn’t realized it was affecting her ability to carry crates in and out of the market or perhaps do things at home. And now she’d injured it worse.

A threshing accident had left Ted disabled over a year ago. Then Moriah’s husband died. Jah, it had been a hard year for all of them.

Pamela pushed through the back door into the building and then led the way past a big dining area with a kitchen to their right. The door was open, showing a large range, double sinks, and lots of counter space. Noelle couldn’t help but be impressed by the kitchen. The dining area was also new since the last time she had been to the market. She’d come with Jesse not long before he’d left.

She followed Pamela into the large hall with booths of pretzels, popcorn, sausages, candles, soaps, quilts, furniture, baskets, and dried flowers. She caught whiffs of lavender potpourri as she hurried past. Finally, the woman stopped at Salome’s booth, toward the back. “You start setting up,” she said. “I’ll keep unloading.”

“Denki,” Noelle replied.

Noelle had started helping Mamm with the baking for the business by the time she was nine. Of course, everything had to follow regulations, and Mamm made sure to teach Noelle all of their mixing and baking techniques, along with their ingredients. But working with Mamm in the kitchen had always been her favorite thing to do. Her mother was a wonderful baker: whoopie pies, loaves of bread, sticky buns, fruit pies. “Keep it simple” was Mamm’s motto.

Mamm didn’t mind working in the market, but Salome hated to bake and agreed to do the selling, even though it meant interacting with the Englischers that she seemed to disdain. She’d come home with stories about how hopelessly impractical they were, how it took them forever to make a simple decision between something as mundane as choosing either a blueberry or peach pie. How they fretted if their children would prefer the chocolate whoopie pie or the peanut butter one. “It’s no surprise,” she once said, “that our word for anxious is Engshtlich. Don’t you think it was inspired by the word Englisch?” Noelle responded that she had no idea.

And she had no idea if her sister was accurate in portraying the Englisch. She hadn’t spent enough time around any to know, except for nieces and nephews who hadn’t joined the Amish.

Salome would go on and on. Not only were the Englisch anxious, but they always bought more than they needed—of everything. Still, Salome never balked at working at the market. Noelle asked her once why she agreed to do it when she seemed to despise the Englisch.

“Oh, I don’t hate them,” she’d said. “Quite the contrary. I find them highly entertaining. I enjoy spending time among them. And I find getting them to buy our goods quite rewarding.”

And she was good at selling, which meant Mamm and Noelle could do the baking without any pressure to go to the market. Noelle had hoped to continue with the arrangement after Mamm died.

She sighed. There was no reason to think Salome wouldn’t soon be back at the market, and Noelle back in the kitchen. As Noelle stacked the pies, all securely packaged in cardboard boxes, she caught a whiff of chocolate. She had her back to the aisle as she looked to her left, to the soap booth. Then to her right, to the quilt booth. She turned around. Sure enough, a candy booth was directly across from her.

A young woman, probably around Noelle’s age, pulled trays of handcrafted chocolates from a plastic crate. She already had five candles, four purple ones with a white one in the middle, set up on the front counter, along with a stack of super-thin boxes that had a picture of a nativity scene on the front.

A young man arrived with another plastic crate. “That’s all,” he said. “I’ll see you at five-thirty.”

“Thanks.” The young woman flipped her long dark hair into a hair band and then knotted it into a bun high on her head. “Have a good class.”

“I’ll try.” The young man’s dark eyes sparkled as he turned to go.

“Carlos.” The girl’s voice was commanding. “Don’t forget to call Mama on your way.”

“I won’t.” He glanced over his shoulder. “I’ll tell her you’ll call this evening.”

Realizing she was staring, Noelle turned her head.

As the young man walked away, the girl called out to Noelle. “Hey, where’s Salome?”

“She hurt her back.”

The girl stepped into the aisle, her hand extended. “I’m Holly.”

Noelle met her and shook her hand. “Noelle.”


Confused, Noelle nodded.

“Any chance you’re a Christmastime baby? I mean, with a name like that . . .”

Noelle couldn’t help but smile. “You too?”

Holly laughed. “Christmas Eve.”

Noelle wrapped her finger around the tie of her Kapp. “Same.”

Holly held up her hand. It took Noelle a half second to realize she wanted to high-five. Awkwardly she slapped her palm against Holly’s.

The girl said, “I’m turning twenty-two.”

Noelle smiled in surprise, again. “So am I.”

“We’re twins.” Holly beamed. “I was born at Lancaster General. How about you?”

“A birthing clinic.” Her Mamm had been forty-seven, a little old to have a baby. But all the tests, including an ultrasound, had indicated her baby was fine and the birth would be low risk.

“Ah well. We’re still twins.”

Noelle fought the urge to laugh. Clearly they weren’t, but she enjoyed the thought of it. A twin would have been lovely. She wouldn’t have felt like the odd one out, the tagalong, the after-thought child.

“I’ve always wished my parents named me Noelle instead of Holly. It’s the perfect Christmas name.”

“Oh no,” Noelle said. “I’ve always loved the name Holly.” It was true, she had. Mainly because her Mamm had been sure that her last baby, this Christmas surprise, was going to be a boy. In fact, that was what the ultrasound technician had told her. After having eight girls—she’d finally have a boy. She’d make the best of the shock and name the baby boy Noel.

When a little girl arrived instead, she couldn’t think of another name, so Salome convinced their mother to add “-le” to the end. At least that was the story Noelle had heard her entire life.

Of course, she didn’t tell Holly all of that.

Pamela arrived with another crate. Holly said, “We’ll chat later . . . twin.” The girl’s melodic laughter warmed Noelle’s heart.

The market opened by the ringing of Christmas bells. Salome had told Noelle all about them, saying the manager thought they added class. Salome thought they added chaos. Noelle listened carefully, thinking she liked the sound of the bells as they reverberated under the open timbers of the hall. Granted, they had to be a recording. There were no bell ringers on the premises. But she still appreciated the sound.

She turned her attention to her products—whoopie pies, bread, rolls, and pies. All things she’d made in the Dawdi Haus kitchen yesterday morning, before several of her nephews moved most of her and Dat’s things, while she packed up the kitchen and then moved the rest.

Now she needed to sell what she’d made. A few customers trickled by, but no one stopped to buy anything the first half hour. However, several people stopped and bought the thin boxes Holly was selling.

Finally, Noelle’s curiosity overpowered her shyness. “What are those?”

“Advent calendars,” Holly answered.

Noelle’s expression must have given away her confusion because Holly continued, “Advent . . . the pre-Christmas tradition?”

Puzzled, Noelle shook her head.

“I know—the Amish don’t celebrate Advent. Neither do the Mennonites, which we are.”

Noelle was surprised.

“My mom grew up celebrating Advent, but then as a teenager in Mexico, she joined a Mennonite Church. Now we go to one a few miles from here.”

Obviously it was a liberal one. The girl was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.

Holly continued. “Advent celebrates the coming of baby Jesus, during the four weeks before Christmas . . .” She pointed toward the five candles on the counter, all unlit. “The purple candles are for hope, joy, peace, and faith. And the white one symbolizes Jesus. That’s what my mama taught me. We light one each Sunday before Christmas.” Holly grinned. “Or flip the switch, for the battery-operated ones because we’re not allowed to light candles in here. I’ll”—she made air quotes—“‘light’ the one for hope tomorrow, the first Sunday of Advent.”

Holly held up one of the calendars and pointed to the numeral one. It wasn’t a normal calendar with grids. Instead it had little cardboard doors arranged around the painting. “Each of the twenty-five flaps has a verse printed on it, and inside is a piece of chocolate.” She put the calendar back down on the counter. “It’s a fun countdown to Christmas, but it also helps kids stay focused on the reason for the season.” She grinned again.

Noelle appreciated the lesson. She liked Holly. And not just because they shared a birthday.

Business picked up gradually with each passing hour, but it wasn’t as packed as Noelle remembered from when she helped before. Holly was keeping busy, but sales were slow for Noelle. An older Englisch woman stopped at her booth and asked what Noelle was selling. In her typical low voice, she explained. The woman proudly announced she was visiting Lancaster County and reached out and patted Noelle’s hand. “Try to smile and sound a little more enthusiastic, dear.”

Noelle grimaced.

The woman bought an apple pie, sticky buns, and a loaf of bread. “I’m going to compare your baking to mine.” Her eyes twinkled.

Noelle knew she should come up with a snappy comeback, but she couldn’t think of a thing to say except for “Have a nice day.”

The tourist gave her a smile and then joined another Englisch woman at Holly’s booth.

When Noelle and Jesse courted, she’d been more confident. She always felt more outgoing with him, and she had plenty to smile about back then. When he left, she grew even more shy than she’d been before. Mamm had told Noelle, or tried to in her post-stroke speech, not to let embarrassment isolate her. But Noelle couldn’t seem to help it. Her shame sucked all of her energy, except what she needed to care for Mamm and continue with the baking for the business.

Noelle stayed in her booth without a break, not wanting to miss any customers. She took bites of her sandwich as she stood, hoping for more customers, while Holly grew busier and busier as the day continued.

Finally, in the midafternoon, the girls watched each other’s booth so they could each take a quick trip to the restroom and grab a cup of coffee. Holly gave Noelle a truffle, and Noelle returned the favor with a sticky bun.

Noelle enjoyed interacting with the girl. Her best friend had been her niece Moriah, who was a couple of months older than Noelle. Her husband, Eugene, had been good friends with Jesse, and the four of them had gone on buggy rides and hikes together. But Noelle’s relationship with Moriah had grown strained in the last few years, especially after Eugene had died nearly a year ago. Noelle had tried to console her niece but to no avail.

Most of Noelle’s friends from school were either married or would be soon. Spending time with them just reminded her of what she didn’t have. After Jesse stayed in Montana, Noelle was too embarrassed to go back to the Youngie singings and volleyball games. She saw enough pity in the expressions of others at church. Soon, Moriah told Noelle that she’d heard, through the grapevine, that Jesse was dating an Englisch girl in Montana.

Noelle felt as if a half-grown calf had kicked her. Before that, she still hoped Jesse would come home, that they would make up and join the church together. And then marry.

But obviously those were no longer his plans.

She’d joined the church the next spring. Mamm and Dat thought that meant she’d forgotten Jesse, that she was willing to marry someone else. It meant nothing of the sort.

It just meant she was resigned to a life alone.

By midafternoon, Noelle had sold a quarter of the pies. She hoped the rest would sell and moved the boxes to the front of her booth, sure Salome would be nearly out of product by now. It appeared that Holly was out of calendars.

As Noelle bagged a pie, someone off to her right caught her attention.

Her worst fear had come true.


He wore Amish clothes and a beard that matched his sandy hair. Unintentionally her eyes met his. They were as bright blue as ever. She stepped backward, struggling to catch her breath.

Not only was he at the market, as she’d feared, but as indicated by his beard, he was both Amish and married.

She finished the transaction as her heart thumped in her chest. She hoped she could continue to function without crying.

As the customer stepped away, Jesse took the woman’s place. He held something in his arms. Noelle stepped backward again. A sleeping Boppli, wrapped in a pink woven blanket. The baby’s head was partly uncovered, but her face was turned toward him.

Noelle clenched her trembling hands. Jesse was a father.

Feeling as if her heart might stop, she turned away from him and toward a customer. Thank goodness her booth was the busiest it had been all day. “May I help you?”

As she handed the customer a boxed blueberry pie, Noelle looked behind Jesse, trying to spot his wife. Obviously he’d married an Amish woman—not the Englisch girl he’d been dating. But there didn’t appear to be anyone with him.

A man wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers hat stepped in front of Jesse. “Are you Noelle Schrock?” he asked.

She nodded.

“I’m Steve Browne—the manager of the market.” She guessed he was in his forties. “Your driver called. She can’t give you a ride tonight. Some sort of emergency came up.”

Noelle rubbed the back of her hand over her forehead, wishing Jesse would go away. She didn’t have any idea what to do now, and she couldn’t think with him so close.

Jesse stepped to the man’s side. “We can give you a ride.”

We. She shook her head but didn’t speak.

Steve, who seemed to sense her discomfort, nodded toward Holly. “I’ll ask if Carlos can give you a lift.”

Before Noelle had a chance to say anything more, Steve disappeared into the crowd and Jesse stepped forward again. “Let me give you a ride.”

The last thing she wanted in all the world was to talk with Jesse King.


She couldn’t fathom how he could seem so familiar and so foreign all at the same time. The line of his jaw. His baby blue eyes. The way his hair curled along his forehead, ruining his bowl cut. It was as if he’d never been away. But he’d left her and married someone else. And now had a baby daughter in his arms. She turned toward the customer to her right, willing herself to remain calm.

Jesse stayed put, even after Steve returned and announced that Holly said Carlos could give her a ride. Noelle thanked the man and helped the next customer. A baby cried and Noelle realized it was Jesse’s. Where in the world was his wife?

A few minutes later, he finally left, without saying another word. God willing, Salome would recover quickly, and Noelle would never have to see Jesse again.


At six o’clock, when the bells rang to signal the market was closing, Noelle tucked the money box into her purse and then quickly packed up the leftover loaves of bread, sticky buns, and pies—far more than what she’d hoped for. It was obvious she wasn’t as good at sales as Salome. She’d only sold a couple of loaves of bread and a few boxes of sticky buns.

The manager wandered down the aisle, asking vendors if they needed help. His baseball cap was backward now, and it appeared he was as eager to go home as everyone else. Noelle grabbed an apple pie, surprising herself, and held the box out to him. “I have an extra,” she said. “Would you like it?”

“Wow.” He took it from her. “Salome has never given me a pie.”

Noelle winced. That was because Salome was a better businesswoman.

Steve smiled. “Thank you. My wife and kids will be thrilled.”

She nodded and then said, “I appreciate you asking Holly if they could give me a ride.”

“No problem. Tell Salome hello.”

Noelle said she would and then, as he continued on, turned her attention to across the way, where Holly was packing the last of her chocolates into her plastic crates as Carlos arrived. She didn’t have nearly as much left as Noelle.

Holly slapped her brother on the back. “We’re giving Noelle a ride.”


“Over there,” Holly said. “Salome’s sister. Is that all right?”

Carlos turned toward Noelle, a smile on his face. “Sure,” he said. “I’ll take out our crates and then come and help you too.”

Noelle slipped into her coat and finished tidying up the booth. When Carlos returned with the dolly, the three of them managed her boxes in one load. Carlos led the way, followed by Noelle and then Holly. As they neared the back door, Noelle spotted Jesse sitting on a bench, talking with the owner of the furniture booth as he gave the baby a bottle.

She quickened her pace.

But when Jesse saw her, he stood. “I’ll be at church tomorrow.” He effortlessly balanced the baby and bottle. “Could we talk then? About what happened?”

Noelle stopped abruptly, causing Holly to run into her, hitting her with a box. “Oops. You okay?”

Noelle ignored Holly and spun around toward Jesse. In a raw voice, she stammered, “I have nothing to say to you.”

In a calm and steady tone he said, “It’s apparent you haven’t changed your mind about me.”

Her voice shook as she asked, “What are you talking about?”

“You know.”

Noelle’s jaw dropped. “Actually, I have no idea.” He hadn’t come back. He’d dated an Englisch girl. Then he’d married someone else.

And now he was blaming her. Noelle stomped away, the heels of her boots clicking across the linoleum, without waiting for a response.

Holly followed, squeaking “Oops” again, this time to Jesse as she passed by.

When they stepped out into the cold, Holly asked, “Whoa, who was that?”

Noelle’s voice still shook as she said, “A guy I used to know.”

“Do you despise him? Or love him?” Holly raised her eyebrows. “The two can be so hard to distinguish between at times.”

Carlos shot his sister an exasperated look and said, “Ignore her. I’m still trying to teach her some manners.”

Holly shook her head and then stepped ahead to an old white pickup.

It had a canopy over the bed, and once they’d loaded the boxes, Noelle climbed into the back seat of the cab while Carlos and Holly sat up front. Noelle gave Carlos the address of Ted and Salome’s Dawdi Haus, where the boxes and products were stored, for now. They’d most likely move them once Noelle had the kitchen unpacked in the new house.

After Carlos entered the address into his phone, they were on their way. Soon the siblings’ conversation fell to their mother.

Noelle leaned her head against the cold glass of the window and looked out into the darkness, half listening to the brother and sister, envying how close they were.

Fifteen minutes later, they reached the Dawdi Haus. Both Holly and Carlos jumped down to help her unload. Noelle took out the money she’d intended to pay Pamela and handed it to Carlos. He wouldn’t take it. She tried to give it to Holly.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Holly said. “This is practically on our way. Besides, we’d do whatever we could to help you. Salome, too.”

As Carlos started pulling Noelle’s boxes out of the truck, Holly handed her an Advent calendar. “I held one back for you.”

“Oh, that’s so nice.” Noelle felt a surge of gratitude, thinking of the candles. Hope, joy, peace, faith. She needed all of those in her life this Christmas season. She just wasn’t sure where she’d find them.

“Start tomorrow,” Holly said. “And no cheating.” The girl’s grin was so infectious that Noelle smiled back. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d smiled as much as she had today, regardless of seeing Jesse King.

Holly and Carlos followed her up to the door of the Dawdi Haus. Noelle knocked and then opened it.

Moriah, tall and slender like her mother, stood amidst boxes in the middle of the living room. “There you are.” She explained that Salome was resting and that her father was at the big house, eating supper.

Noelle quickly introduced Holly and Carlos to Moriah, as they stacked the boxes next to the living room window. After she thanked the two, Holly said she hoped she’d see Noelle again.

“It will depend on Salome’s back. . . .”

Holly grimaced. “Well, I hope she recovers quickly. Perhaps you could come with her sometime.”

Noelle doubted she would, especially not with Jesse around, but she didn’t say so.

Once the front door closed behind them, Moriah stepped to the window. “Mamm’s mentioned Holly before.”


“I don’t think it was exactly positive.” Moriah’s brown eyes widened.

Noelle couldn’t imagine what could be negative about Holly, but leave it to Salome to come up with something.

“I need to talk with you about something else,” Moriah said. “Actually two things.”


“I know how much you like Family Christmas, so I want to warn you that Mamm’s afraid she’s not going to feel up to putting it together this year.”

“What?” Noelle shuddered. Family Christmas, when her parents and all of her sisters and their families gathered, was her favorite few hours of the year.

“Jah,” Moriah said. “She’s in a lot of pain and overwhelmed with the move.”

“She won’t have to do anything. The rest of us can do it all.” Everyone usually pitched in with food, the setup, and the cleanup. No one expected Salome to be in charge.

Moriah’s shoulders slumped. “It’s not that I agree with her, but she seems pretty determined. . . .”

“There’s no reason to cancel it.” Noelle couldn’t imagine not celebrating Christmas with the whole family. They hadn’t all been together since Mamm’s service.

Moriah sighed. “I just wanted to give you fair warning is all.”

“Denki. I appreciate it.” Noelle crossed her arms. “What else did you want to talk about?”

“Jesse stopped by today. Did he find you?”

She concentrated on keeping her voice level. “He stopped by the booth.”

Moriah wrinkled her nose. “Did you see his baby?”

Noelle’s chest began to ache. It felt as if it were only yesterday that Jesse had left her. “Jah,” she said. “I saw the baby. But not his wife.”

“His wife?”

Noelle nodded.

“There is no wife,” Moriah said. “She died seven months ago.”

The next day, Noelle went to Sunday services with her father at the farm of Ben King, who happened to be Jesse’s uncle. When Jesse was fourteen, his father died and then his mother left the Amish. Ben and his wife, Barbara, took Jesse in and finished raising him.

Thankfully, when she and Dat arrived, Noelle didn’t see Jesse. Everyone congregated in the Kings’ cleaned-out shed that had several kerosene heaters running to ward off the cold. Noelle hoped her father was warm enough.

Despite the chill, she yawned through the singing and the scripture reading. But when the sermon started, her heart raced at the sight of Jesse slipping down the outside of the men’s side, his baby asleep in his arms. Noelle shifted her eyes forward, hoping no one had seen where her gaze had momentarily landed. Her racing thoughts matched the accelerated beat of her heart. How had Jesse’s wife died? How long had they been married? How devastating it must have been for him to lose her.

It put Jesse wanting to talk with her in a new light, but she felt the same as she did when she saw him at the market. She wanted to avoid him at all costs.

Noelle couldn’t concentrate on the preaching, although now she wasn’t having a hard time staying awake. However, the last scripture reading caught her attention: “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” Hope. That was what the first candle in Holly’s Advent wreath represented.

She hadn’t felt any hope for a long time. Not since Mamm had her stroke. Not since Jesse left. Certainly not since Mamm had died.

Could God fill her with hope again?

After the service, they all filed out of the shed and into the big, sprawling farmhouse, where it was much warmer. Jesse’s Aenti Barbara held the baby while Jesse helped set up the tables. The little one was awake now, bright-eyed and smiling. Her dark hair stuck up all over her head, and, by her size, Noelle guessed she was seven months or so, which meant she was a newborn when her mother died.

When Moriah approached Noelle, she quickly looked away from the baby. Moriah crossed her arms. “Mamm’s back isn’t doing any better. You’ll need to do both the baking and the selling this week.”

Noelle didn’t answer. It wasn’t a request. It was a command, sent from Salome. Moriah added, “I can come over and help on Wednesday.”

“Denki.” Noelle would need to get the kitchen unpacked on Monday and the shopping done. She could then start baking on Tuesday and finish up, with Moriah’s help, on Wednesday.

Moriah continued to stand with her arms crossed. Noelle wasn’t sure what to say. They used to be close—the best of friends. But then Moriah had married about the time Jesse left for Montana. Perhaps Noelle, deep in her own grief, hadn’t been as happy for Moriah as she should have been. And then when Moriah’s husband had died a year ago, their relationship had grown even more strained.

When Moriah drifted off toward a group of women, Jesse headed toward Noelle. In her experience, no one was as determined as Jesse King when he put his mind to something.

“Could we talk?” He nodded toward the window seat on the enclosed porch, in the nook that used to be their special spot.

As much as Noelle wanted to flee, she was curious to hear Jesse’s side of the story. She followed him to the window seat but sat as far away from him as possible and crossed her arms.

Jesse exhaled. “I need to know why you didn’t want me to come back.”

Was he trying to pin their breakup on her? “You chose to stay in Montana.”

“You were angry with me,” he said.

Noelle shook her head, baffled. “Of course, I was angry with you. We’d had a fight and you left in the middle of it.”

“I had a train to catch.”

Noelle stared at him until he looked away.

“Jah, I shouldn’t have gone. I see that now. I didn’t realize how bad your Mamm was at the time.” His eyes stayed on the floor.

She tried to choose her words carefully. “Even though we’d had a fight, I expected you to come back.”

He crossed his arms and met her eyes again. “That’s not what I heard.”

She stood.

“Noelle.” His voice sounded defensive.

The Jesse she used to know was honest and willing to take responsibility for his actions. Now he was being deceptive—and manipulative.

She fled, slipping into the kitchen. Ten minutes later she managed to eat with the first sitting. Thankfully, Dat did too.

After the meal, he was tired and wanted to go home. Relieved for an excuse to leave, Noelle told Barbara good-bye, ignoring the baby still in the woman’s arms. Barbara gave her a sympathetic look but didn’t say anything. Noelle’s face grew warm, and the shame burned straight through her all over again. Why hadn’t Barbara told her he’d married? And then that his wife had died?

Dat was quiet on the way home. When he closed his eyes, Noelle assumed he’d fallen asleep. But then he said, “If we love, we grieve. It cannot be helped.”

Had he seen her outburst? When Dat didn’t say any more, Noelle’s thoughts returned to Jesse. She had loved him. Then grieved him. And then here he came, stirring everything up again.

“The challenge,” Dat added, “is not to close off our hearts to love. We have to find ways to embrace hope and joy in our lives.”

Noelle stared straight ahead at the horse’s sloped back. Hope. Joy. Love. All included in Dat’s brief words—all included in Holly’s Advent story. Wise words. But also impossible words. She couldn’t imagine what it would take for her to open her heart again.

After Dat had settled down for a nap, Noelle wished she could get started on unpacking the Kicha, but no work was allowed on Sunday. Dat might not notice when he woke up, but Ted could stop by at any moment. Or Salome. Both would rebuke her for her sin of working on the Sabbath, with no hesitation.

Instead, she stood at the living room window and watched the sunlight sparkle on the brilliant landscape. Out in the field was the frozen pond where she and Jesse used to skate. She thought of the snowmen they’d built and the snowball fights they’d had. Racing across the ice. Making snow angels. Going for moonlight rides in his sleigh. There was no season she loved more than winter, and nothing she’d loved more than spending frosty days with Jesse.

She’d feared Jesse would grow bored with her, since she was so quiet and shy. Because he was so gregarious, outgoing, and such a people person, she was always surprised that he wanted to be with just her. But, at the time, it seemed he genuinely did. It wasn’t that they didn’t spend time with others. They did. At Jesse’s side, she enjoyed the interaction with others.

But it seemed he’d been bored with her all along, causing all of her hopes and dreams to shatter. Without even an explanation.

Her mother had told her, in the unsteady way she spoke after her stroke, that the pain would ease with time, and it partly had. Noelle had stopped thinking about Jesse every moment of the day, stopped mulling over the fight they’d had that morning he came to take her to the train station. Stopped searching her memories for what had gone wrong.

But as she stared across the frosty expanse, it all came tumbling through her mind again.

Mamm had her stroke the day before, and Noelle had left a message for Jesse saying she couldn’t go and asking him to stay too—but he hadn’t received it. He came bouncing up the sidewalk to the Dawdi Haus, excited for their trip together. A cousin on his mother’s side had moved to Montana the year before and had asked Jesse to ranch with him. Jesse wanted Noelle to see the place, to decide if she thought she could live that far away from her parents. If so, once they returned, the two of them planned to join the church, marry, and move to Montana. If she didn’t think she could live that far from home, they would still come back and join the church and marry, but figure out a way to make a living in Lancaster County.

But once Mamm fell ill, Noelle couldn’t leave. That morning, she’d asked Jesse not to go, but he insisted he should. He believed because her mother had survived her stroke that everything would be all right. “I need to do this for us,” he said. “I’m fine with you staying, but I need to go.”

When she’d yelled at him, “Go then, just go!” he’d turned away from her, puzzled, and did just that, promising he’d be back in a few weeks. When he didn’t return and instead dated an Englisch girl, she was crushed. That wasn’t the Jesse she knew, the one she’d given her heart to. He’d abandoned her.

For the first two years, memories of him stalked her. She willed them to stop, even begged God to take them away, but they wouldn’t leave her. Finally, as Mamm grew worse, the memories became less vivid. And then when Mamm died, Noelle felt doubly abandoned.

And now, with Jesse’s return, she couldn’t deny that the hollow, unsettled feeling she’d fought for so long to banish was growing stronger again.

As she turned away from the dazzling sunlight reflecting on the snow, she remembered the Advent calendar from Holly and headed to her room. She opened the first little window with a star on it, in the top left-hand corner, popped out the piece of chocolate, and then read Why? John 3:16. She didn’t know a lot of verses by memory, but she knew that one. She didn’t need to look it up in the Bible Mamm and Dat had given her when she’d joined the church. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son . . .

She slipped the chocolate into her mouth and then let it melt. Literally. A creamy warmth flowed through her. Holly was blessed with good ideas, an amazing talent, and the ability to sell. If only Noelle could say the same about herself.

Over the next three days, she accomplished all of her tasks, while caring for her father too. As she and Moriah packed the cardboard boxes on Wednesday evening, Noelle asked her niece if she’d go with her to the market.

“Nee.” Moriah placed the last apple pie in the box. “I have other plans.”

Noelle bristled but then remembered it was nearing the one-year anniversary of Moriah’s husband’s death. Eugene had been herding cows across the highway when a truck came over the hill. The driver slammed on the brakes but still plowed into him. He’d died instantly.

Perhaps Moriah was thinking about him too because she said, “I feel so bad for Jesse, losing his wife.”

Noelle didn’t respond. She felt badly too, but her emotions still churned. She didn’t trust herself to say anything.

Moriah’s eyes glistened. “When Eugene died, Jesse sent me a sympathy card. He would have been married by then, but he didn’t say anything about that, just how sorry he was for my loss.”

That sounded like Jesse—at least the man she once knew.

Moriah brushed at her eyes. “Did I tell you I found out when his wife died?”

Noelle shook her head as her chest tightened. Jesse had been married. They had a baby. His wife had died. She could hardly comprehend it all.

“Right after giving birth.”

Noelle gasped.

Moriah nodded. “Isn’t that awful? Jesse lost his wife and became a single dad all in one day.”

Noelle struggled to catch her breath.

“You’re not still mad at him, are you? Not after everything he’s gone through.”

Forgive and forget was what Noelle had been taught her entire life. But, despite the pain he’d gone through, she hadn’t forgotten what Jesse had done to her. And what was even more surprising was that he, because his mother had left him, had asked her several times if she was serious about her love for him, trying to confirm she would never leave him, never reject him.

Then he’d left her. And rejected her too.

Before she could figure out how to answer Moriah’s question about being mad at Jesse without revealing her own pain, the front door swung open and Salome stepped into the living room. She peeled off her bonnet and shook the snow from it, revealing her gray hair under her Kapp. She called out a hello to Dat as she slipped off her coat.

She waved at Noelle and Moriah. Then she marched, her hips swaying, over to Dat’s side. “My chiropractor said it would do my back good to walk a little, so I decided to come over and see you.”

He smiled up at her, his faded hazel eyes heavy. He’d been twenty-nine when Salome had been born and fifty-five when Noelle came along. Now, at seventy-seven, he was all tuckered out after a lifetime of farming. Of course, grief had worn him down too. He’d been lost since Mamm had her stroke and even more so since she’d died.“Sis,” Dat said. Salome was the only one he called that. Probably because she was the oldest. “How are plans coming for our Family Christmas?”

Noelle turned toward the living room, not wanting to miss a single word.

“Do you think you feel up to it?” Salome asked. “Wouldn’t you rather have a quiet Christmas with just us?”

“Why?” Concern filled Dat’s voice. “Do the other girls not want to gather together?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Salome said. “I just thought it might be too much for you.”

Noelle glanced at Moriah, but her niece just shrugged. What was Salome up to? First her reason was that her back was bad, but now she was insinuating Dat wasn’t up to Family Christmas.

“Besides,” Salome said, “maybe it’s time for each family to start doing their own thing. Of course, you’ll come to my house for Christmas, so there’s no need to worry about that.”

Noelle bristled. Where would she go?

“No,” Dat said. “We do not want to stop having Family Christmas. Especially not this year.”

“Well, we may have to.” Salome’s voice grew louder, as if Dat might not be hearing her clearly. “We don’t have a place big enough anymore.”

“The shed,” Dat responded.

“But it’s so cold. And, honestly, we’ve grown by twenty or so between marriages and new babies this year. There are over a hundred of us now. We’d be crowded in there.”

Noelle knew that was false. They held church in the shed once a year. And they’d had last year’s Family Christmas there.

Dat said as much.

“That’s true,” Salome replied. “But we’re too big to sit around a circle like we’ve always done.” She patted Dat’s hand.

“Then find a bigger place.” Dat pulled his arm away.

“Like where?” Salome asked. “And on Christmas Day? Who’s going to have a place we can use?”

Noelle couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “We’ll figure out something.”

Salome pursed her lips together, turned toward Noelle, and then said, “Let me know when you do.”


The weather had warmed on Wednesday night, turning the snow to rain. All of the world seemed to be dripping and melting and colorless as Noelle rode with Pamela to the market on Thursday morning. She turned her face toward the window, as if she were entranced with the dreary scene. She wasn’t. In reality, she was trying to calm her nerves about working at the market again.

It didn’t help that Holly’s booth was empty when she arrived and remained that way until long after the market had opened. Seeing her was the only thing Noelle had been looking forward to.

But someone else was present. Jesse. He wore a forest-green shirt with his black pants, suspenders, and a pair of work boots. Noelle guessed Barbara was watching the baby. He worked all alone in the furniture booth, kitty-corner from Noelle and behind Holly, selling rocking chairs, hope chests, and bookcases. Why couldn’t he be on the other side of the market, if he had to be around at all?

Several times Jesse tried to catch Noelle’s eye, but each time she shifted her gaze. There wasn’t anything more she wanted to talk with him about. In fact, she wished—with all of her heart—that he would go away.

But neither of them had much business, so when he strode over to her booth she couldn’t ignore him.

He spoke softly and kept a good amount of distance between the two of them, which she appreciated. “Look,” he said. “I just wanted to say hello. And to say how sorry I was when I heard about your Mamm. I should have said that when I first saw you again and at least by the second time. She was a wonderful person—and I know how important she was to you.”

Noelle swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump in her throat. Finally she managed to say, “Denki. I heard about your wife. I’m really sorry for you and your baby.”

For a moment it appeared he might cry, but then he managed to smile a little. “I appreciate your kindness.”

Noelle tried to breathe, but the air felt thick and heavy, and it filled her throat.

“I know our conversation didn’t go well on Sunday, but I’m hoping we can—”

“That’s not a good idea.”

“What’s not a good idea?”

Noelle turned. Holly stood in the middle of the aisle, a plastic crate in her hand.

“Nothing,” Noelle muttered.

Holly introduced herself to Jesse. He greeted her and then returned to his booth.

“At least you two are talking, right? That’s a step in the right direction.” Holly’s eyes lit up.

Noelle ignored the comment. She knew Holly was joking—and that she had no idea how much it hurt. “I was afraid you weren’t coming.”

“We had to stop by the college so I could turn in my final paper.”


“Lancaster Community College,” she said. “I’m on the slow track. I only take two classes a term. Next week is finals, but my big paper was due today.” She jerked her head toward her brother, who had just shown up, carrying two more crates. “Carlos didn’t have any big papers due this term, which isn’t fair. Right?”

Noelle nodded in agreement, even though she wasn’t sure if it was fair or not. Because she had no one stopping by her booth, Noelle offered to help. Holly gave her the four purple candles, white candle, and wreath to set up. Noelle did so, carefully placing the wreath on the counter and then inserting the candles into the holders. She took a step backward. The purple candles were so rich, and the white such a stark contrast.

Noelle asked Holly if she had any more Advent calendars.

“No, silly,” Holly answered as she switched the light on one of the purple candles. “No one wants those after the first Sunday of Advent. We only sell those in November.”

“Oh,” Noelle said. “I’m enjoying mine.”

“Oh yeah? What’s the verse for the day?”

“Isaiah 7:14. ‘Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign . . .’” She couldn’t remember the rest.

But Holly did. “‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’” She grinned again. “How do you like the chocolate?”

“It’s delicious. Did you make it?”

Holly shook her head. “My mother does the Advent calendars. She made them before she left.”

“Where’d she go?”

“To be with our grandmother.”

“Oh.” Noelle paused but then asked, “Is she coming back? For your birthday? For Christmas?”

Holly shrugged and glanced at Carlos.

“We’ll see,” he said, his voice deeper than usual.

Noelle wasn’t sure if she should ask any more questions, so she didn’t, but she wondered about the rest of Holly’s family. Where was her father? Did she have other siblings? Aunts and uncles? Cousins?

Salome had said one time that there were more Hispanic people in Lancaster County than Amish people, and that their population had grown rapidly in the last ten years. Noelle had the feeling Salome viewed it in a negative way, but at least she hadn’t been overt about her opinion, for once.

Hopefully Holly had more family around than just Carlos.

In the afternoon, Noelle’s nephew Paul and his wife, LuAnne, stopped by the booth, taking Noelle by surprise.

“We’re Christmas shopping.” Paul was large like his Dat. “Moriah’s watching the kids so we can shop. We’re going in with Moriah to buy a clock for the folks.”

Paul had always loved shopping for Christmas, even though the Amish didn’t give much. A clock for Salome and Ted was a big item.

“We’re also looking for little gifts for Family Christmas,” Paul said.

“Your Mamm didn’t tell you she doesn’t want to have it this year?”

Paul’s voice boomed. “What?”

Noelle’s face grew warm. “Jah,” she said. “She thinks each family should just do their own celebration.” Noelle didn’t have the heart to list all of Salome’s reasons.

“But what about you and Dawdi?” Paul’s voice had increased in volume.

Noelle shrugged. She was too embarrassed to say that Salome had invited Dat for Christmas but not her. Instead, she explained Salome didn’t feel any of their houses were big enough.

“We can have it at our house.” He turned toward his wife. “Right?”

“Except my family is coming for second Christmas. That would be a lot to host two big gatherings back-to-back.” She gazed up at him. “How about next year . . . ? Although there will probably be ten new in-laws and as many babies.”

Noelle kept herself from dropping her eyes to LuAnne’s belly. Was she pregnant again?

“Is it really the lack of a building?” Paul asked. “Or does Mamm just not want to do it?”

“The former, according to what she said. She told me if I came up with a building to let her know.”

“I’ll ask about the school.” LuAnne seemed happy to help.

Paul stopped listening. He’d spotted Jesse. “Hey, what’s he doing here?” Before Noelle could answer, her nephew was striding toward Jesse, his hand extended. They shook hands, slapping each other on the back as they did. Everyone loved Jesse.

LuAnne leaned toward Noelle. “Are you doing okay?”

Noelle nodded.

“It’s not too awkward having Jesse around?”

They’d all seen her suffer when he left, but she wasn’t going to admit to anyone how hard it was to have him back. Only to herself.

LuAnne was as easily distracted as Paul. She spotted Holly’s chocolates and scurried across the aisle. After a minute, she turned toward Noelle, holding up a small box. “Look at these mini sleighs. Aren’t they cute?”

Noelle nodded. She’d noticed the Englisch seemed to like to buy small things, too, as she observed them in the market. Small squares of soap instead of bars. Small candles. Small greeting cards. Small jars of jam. Even small quilts.

The appeal was a mystery to her. But LuAnne seemed to share it.

Noelle turned her attention to her pies and pans of sticky buns. Maybe her servings were too big.

A few minutes later, a woman stopped to browse at Noelle’s booth, carrying a small candle in a tin. Noelle worked up her nerve and asked the woman why she chose it.

She held it up. “It’s just so cute, don’t you think?”

Cute. Noelle nodded. “But it’s not very practical.”

The woman laughed. “It makes me happy—that’s what matters.”

“Ach,” Noelle said. “I see.” But the truth was, she didn’t. Not at all.

Holly insisted that Carlos give Noelle a ride home, so she called Pamela in the early afternoon and left a message on the woman’s phone. By the time the market closed, marked again by the ringing of the bells, Holly was practically out of her chocolates.

“I’m going to have to go home and make more,” she said as she packed the few boxes that were left.

Last year during the Christmas Market, Noelle baked more each day for Salome to sell. Obviously, she wasn’t selling nearly as much this year though. She sighed at the thought of letting her family down.

“What’s the matter?” Holly asked as she unwound her hair from her bun.

“Just a little tired is all.” Noelle placed more product into a crate.

Jesse pushed a cart by, loaded with three bookcases. Noelle ducked her head so she didn’t have to say hello.

“What is going on with you two?” Holly crossed the aisle and stepped into the booth.

“Nothing,” Noelle whispered.

“Oh, I get it.” Holly had her hands on her hips and spoke loudly. “It’s a taboo topic, right?”

Noelle nodded.

“Which means you two used to—what do you call it? Court?”

Noelle nodded again.

Holly dropped her voice to a whisper. “I can’t blame you. He’s gorgeous.”

Noelle’s face grew warm.

“Okay, okay, I’ll knock it off. I know I can be incorrigible. Carlos tells me so all the time.” Holly’s brown eyes danced. “Give me a box. I’ll help you pack.”

Instead of dropping her off at the Dawdi Haus, Noelle asked Carlos to take her to the new house.

“How many houses are on this property?” he asked.

“Just the three,” Noelle answered.

Holly’s voice wavered uncharacteristically. “Do you realize how lucky you are? To live right next to family?”

Noelle hadn’t given it much thought. Every Amish person she knew lived near family. “I don’t live close to all of my relatives,” she said. “I live with my Dat. Salome and her husband and their daughter live in the Dawdi Haus, while my nephew Paul and LuAnne and their kids live in the big house. My other seven sisters and their families are scattered all over the county, and a couple live in Chester County.”

Holly whistled. “There are nine girls in your family?”

“Jah,” Noelle answered.

“How many brothers do you have?”

“No brothers.”

Holly jabbed Carlos. “Lucky.” By her voice, Noelle could tell she was teasing.

“Do the two of you have other siblings?” Noelle asked.

Carlos shook his head. “It’s just us.” He jabbed Holly back. “Although I prayed she’d be a brother.”

“You prayed that when you were two years old? I don’t think so.” She laughed. “But nice try.”

Holly and Carlos helped Noelle carry her boxes again. After they’d put everything down in the entryway, Holly pulled a white box of mini chocolates from her coat pocket and gave it to Noelle, who, in return, gave her a cherry pie.

“Thanks!” Holly gave her a quick hug, and Noelle forced herself to hug her back. She wasn’t used to hugging anyone. Not even her parents.

“Noelle, is that you?” Dat came padding down the hall.

“Jah, Dat. And my friends, Holly and Carlos. They gave me a ride.”

Dat leaned on his cane as he reached the three of them and then shook Carlos’s hand. “Nice to meet you,” Dat said. But he didn’t thank them for their help.

“See you tomorrow!” Holly said as she headed to the door. “And count on us giving you a ride home again.”

“Thank you,” Noelle said.

After the two had left but before Noelle could even take off her coat, Dat asked exactly who Holly and Carlos were.

“They have a booth at the market. Well, Holly does. Carlos drops her off and picks her up. Salome knows them.”

“But why are they giving you a ride home?”

“They offered,” Noelle said. “It saves us money.”

“What do you know about them?”

Noelle exhaled. What was Dat getting at? “They live here in Lancaster County. They both go to the community college. Their mother went to help their grandmother.”

“So they’re unsupervised?”

“They’re living on their own.” Noelle frowned. “Oh, and they go to a Mennonite church.”

Dat harrumphed. “A liberal one, if they go at all.”

“Why would they lie about that?”

Dat shuffled toward his chair. “Maybe they want to win your trust.”

She wasn’t used to challenging Dat, not like some of her sisters had through the years. Instead of saying anything more, even though she longed to, she washed her hands and focused on their supper. She heated up the stew from the night before even though Dat hated leftovers. She couldn’t work all day at the market and fix supper too. He’d have to make do.

He didn’t complain, but he didn’t thank her either. In fact, he didn’t speak at all through the entire meal.

After she’d cleaned up the dishes, she opened up the box of chocolates from Holly. They were miniature candles. Noelle offered one to Dat. He popped it in his mouth and then said, “How about another one?”

She smiled, took one for herself, and gave him the box.

The chocolate was good—even better than the Advent calendar chocolates. There were nine in the box, and Holly sold them for six dollars. Noelle couldn’t imagine that the ingredients cost much or that making the chocolates took too much time. Jah, the boxes and packaging cost something, but Holly was making good money, especially considering how many she sold.

LuAnne had bought two boxes of chocolates, which was a significant amount of money for her. If a frugal Amish housewife would spend twelve dollars on mini chocolates, what would an Englisch woman spend on . . .

Noelle didn’t need to do any baking that night, but she would anyway. She had an idea she couldn’t ignore.


Noelle arrived bleary-eyed at the market the next morning. She led the way, carrying a cardboard box, while Pamela trailed behind with more on the dolly. As Noelle turned down the aisle toward her booth, she heard Jesse’s laugh before she saw him.

Then Holly’s.

She groaned.

The two were at Holly’s booth, chatting away.

Once Noelle had all of the product in the booth, she started pulling out the boxes of mini whoopie pies she’d made the night before. Jesse, without saying anything to her, returned to his booth.

But Holly craned her neck and then scurried across the aisle. “What in the world?”

Noelle held up one of the boxes. She’d packed a dozen in a box, visible through the clear lid, and then tied a red ribbon around it.

“Those are so cute,” Holly gushed. “What a great idea.”

“I got it from you,” Noelle admitted.

Holly cocked her head questioningly.

“From your mini chocolates.” She lowered her voice. “The ones Englischers are happy to pay top dollar for.”

Holly threw back her head and laughed. “Glad my marketing is helping yours.”

“Well, we’ll have to see how I do.”

The bells rang and soon the first of the customers started coming through. Within the first half hour, Noelle had sold three of the boxes of the mini whoopie pies. Soon after that, Steve, the manager, came by. “I thought you might be the purveyor of those little wonders.” He nodded toward the whoopie pies as he reached for his wallet.

“I’ll give you a box of them,” Noelle said.

“Oh no you won’t.” He pulled out a bill. “If Salome found out, she’d be after me. You giving me that pie was more than you should have.” He handed her a ten. “Keep the change.”

“Denki,” Noelle said. She was selling the mini whoopie pie boxes for eight dollars each, which seemed absurd. If they didn’t all sell, she’d lower the price tomorrow.

“I have to say . . .” Steve held the box close. “That apple pie you gave me was delicious. My wife said to tell you thank you.”

“I’m glad she liked it.”

He held up the mini whoopie pies. “My girls are going to love these too.”

Noelle smiled as he continued walking by. He seemed like a nice man, and as if he’d be a good father. And husband.

By noon she’d sold all of the boxes of whoopie pies. After that she sold a few more pies and batches of sticky buns but not much. At quitting time, she counted her money. She’d definitely had her best day yet. She’d go home and make more of the whoopie pies—and maybe some other “mini” items too.

When Holly and Carlos dropped her off, she simply said she could carry the boxes. Perhaps Dat’s behavior from the night before had been obvious because Holly stayed in the truck while Carlos helped her carry her boxes, but he left them outside the door. She thanked him and then began moving them inside one at a time.

Dat slept in his chair, his white hair and beard both tousled. She stared at him for a long moment. She knew that men often declined in health after their wives died. Was that happening with Dat? It seemed he was sleeping more and eating less. Except for the chocolate the night before, he hadn’t had much of an appetite.

She took off her coat and heated supper before waking him.

“Dat,” she said, “time to eat.” He stirred but didn’t open his eyes. She put a hand on his shoulder. He still didn’t open his eyes.

She stared at his chest as she yelled, “Dat!” Again he stirred and his chest rose and fell, just a little. He wasn’t dead. But she couldn’t wake him either.

She dashed to the front door, grabbed her coat, stepped into her boots, and then rushed out the door, wishing Carlos and Holly were still outside. But of course they weren’t. Should she go to Salome’s? Or the phone shed? The shed was closer, so she chose it.

She’d never called 9-1-1 before, but Dat had called it for Mamm when she’d had her first stroke. After Noelle dialed and the dispatcher answered, she quickly told the woman on the line what was wrong and what their address was. The dispatcher said an ambulance would be there as soon as possible.

When Noelle hung up, she knew it was likely that summoning EMTs meant Dat would have to go to the hospital, a place to which she’d never wanted to return. She inhaled sharply as she continued on to Salome’s. When she arrived, she burst through the front door and quickly explained what happened and that the EMTs were on their way.

“He was fine earlier today,” Salome said. “I’ll grab the smelling salts. Hopefully he’ll revive before they arrive.”

Without answering her sister, Noelle hurried back out the door, stumbling as she rushed toward the lane. She caught herself before she fell and continued on in the ruts of refrozen snow along the edge of the lane.

As she reached the new house, red lights fell over the snow, coming from the opposite direction. She left the door open for the EMTs as she rushed into the house. “Dat!” she called out.

Once more he stirred and tried to open his eyes but nothing happened. She hadn’t realized her sister was right behind her until Salome said, “Why didn’t you close the door? Were you born in a barn?”

“I left it open for the EMTs.”

“They might be Englischers, but I’m pretty sure they know how to open a door.” Salome’s usual cynical humor seemed to Noelle to be rather inappropriate, considering what bad shape Dat was in.

Salome held the smelling salts up to Dat’s nose. He jerked away and then opened his eyes as two EMTs came through the door, quickly introducing themselves.

“I’m Jeff,” the older one said.

“And I’m Brent,” the younger one added. “Tell us about the patient and what’s going on,” he said as they gathered around Dat and placed their bags on the floor.

Salome held up the smelling salts. “These did the trick.”

“How about if we check him out?” Brent asked. “Take his blood pressure. Pulse. That sort of thing.”

Noelle nodded.

Jeff knelt down by Dat’s chair. “Sir, how are you feeling?”

“Poorly,” Dat said. “Been tired all day, and I fell earlier.”

“Was anyone with you when that happened?”

Dat shook his head.

Noelle’s face grew warm. She shouldn’t have left him alone.

Jeff glanced from Salome to Noelle. “Do both of you live here?”

Salome shook her head. “Just my sister. I live down the lane.”

“I was working at the Christmas Market all day. I just got home.” Noelle’s voice shook as she spoke. “I thought Dat was just sleeping in his chair, but when I tried to wake him I couldn’t.”

Brent took a blood pressure cuff out of his bag while Jeff explained to Dat what they were going to do. After Brent took Dat’s blood pressure, he said it was ninety over sixty. “That’s low and could explain why you fell. And perhaps why your daughter couldn’t wake you.”

Brent moved his hand down to Dat’s wrist to check his pulse. “Did you hit your head?”

“I do not believe so.”

Brent dropped his hand from Dat’s wrist and turned to Jeff. “I’m concerned about this irregular heartbeat.” He turned back to Dat. “Do you mind if I check for a bump from when you fell?”

“Of course not,” Dat answered.

Brent examined Dat’s head and then said, “You have a goose egg on the back of your head. We should take you into the hospital and have a doctor examine you.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Dat said.

“It is.” Noelle touched his arm. “We need to find out what’s wrong.”

Salome stepped back and brushed her hands together. “You’ll need to go with him.”

The thought of going with Dat alone worried Noelle. “What about talking with the doctors?”

“You’ll manage just fine,” Salome said.

“How will we get home?”

Salome shrugged. “Call Pamela, although it might be the middle of the night.”

Noelle stepped back beside Salome. “What if Pamela can’t get us?”

“I suppose you can take a taxi, but it will be expensive.”

Noelle still had the cash from the market in her purse. She’d use that. “What about the market tomorrow? Do you feel up to doing it?”

“Not with my back the way it is.”

“What about Moriah?”

Salome shook her head. “She’s in no shape to do it either . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“Can you call someone else in the family and see if they can take over for one day?”

Salome wrinkled her nose. “No one else has been involved in the business for years. We can’t expect someone to take over just like that. I’ll call Steve and tell him our booth will be empty.”

Noelle’s eyes burned. Salome was right. It wasn’t as if any of their sisters or nieces lived in their district or knew anything about the business. She didn’t want to lose a day of sales, but she didn’t know what else to do. “All right.” She headed for the coatrack and grabbed both Dat’s coat and hers.

Jeff had left the house but now returned with a gurney. Noelle held the door open for him.

As Salome approached, she sighed and muttered, “I’m sure he can walk.”

Noelle didn’t respond, but she did grab Dat’s cane, grateful for the reminder. He’d need it once he was discharged.

Dat had no signs of a brain injury, so the emergency doctor didn’t order a CT scan, but he did order an EKG because Dat’s heartbeat was irregular. When the doctor came in again, he said the EKG showed Dat’s heart was enlarged. “And you have fluid in your lungs too,” he said. “You need to see a cardiologist.” He gave Dat a piece of paper with a name and a number on it. “Call on Monday,” he said. “And get in as soon as possible.”

“Can I go home tonight?” Dat asked.

“We’ll see how you do in the next few hours,” the doctor replied.

It turned out he was also dehydrated, so the nurse hooked up an IV and also gave Dat a large glass of water with a lid on it. When asked if he was hungry, Dat said he’d eat if it meant he could go home. The nurse laughed and brought him a tray with a bowl of soup, a small salad, and a slice of bread. Thankfully, he ate.

He appeared so vulnerable in the hospital gown. His belly was still round, but his arms and legs were thin. He looked downright fragile. Why hadn’t she noticed?

Could his heart be failing him? Had it broken, literally, when Mamm died?

It wasn’t until one in the morning that the nurse came in and said the doctor cleared Dat to go home. As the nurse removed the various cords and sensors from Dat, she said to Noelle, “You’re a good daughter. You’ve done a good job caring for your father tonight.”

A lump filled Noelle’s throat, so she simply smiled at the woman.

The nurse smiled back. “You’ll soon be on your way.”

“May I use a phone to call a taxi?” Noelle asked.

“Certainly.” She nodded toward the door. “But there’s a couple of people out here who say they’d like to give you a ride.” She pulled back the curtain, revealing Holly and Carlos.

Noelle gasped. “What are you doing here?”

Carlos called out, “Hello, Mr. Schrock.”

And then Holly answered Noelle’s question. “Steve called me after Salome phoned him. He thought I’d want to know,” Holly said. “We’ve been out in the waiting room.”

“All this time?”

She shook her head. “Just for the last couple of hours, after we got our chocolate boxed up. We figured it might take a while here.”

“I’ll go warm up the truck,” Carlos said. “And come around to the exit.”

Noelle thanked him. After the nurse gave Noelle a stack of paperwork, got Dat’s coat on him, and transferred him to a wheelchair, they all started toward the hall. Holly grabbed Dat’s cane from Noelle and walked with it, leaning against it dramatically.

Noelle couldn’t help but smile. For being “twins” they were as different as could be.

Dat dozed on the way home, in the passenger seat, as Carlos drove and Holly and Noelle sat in the back seat. Big fluffy snowflakes began to fall, melting as soon as they hit the windshield.

“You two will be so tired tomorrow,” Noelle said.

“You too.”

Noelle shook her head. “I’m not going. I’m staying home with Dat.”

“So Salome’s going?”

“No. Our booth will be empty.”

“But it’s going to be busy tomorrow. I hate to have you miss out on the big bucks.” Holly scrunched her nose. “Give me a crate of your product. I’ll sell what I can.”

“I didn’t get a chance to make more of the whoopie pies.”

“Of course not. But give me pies. I’ll sell those.”

As Noelle thanked her, tears stung her eyes. Holly and Carlos had both been good friends to her. Sharing the Advent calendar. Giving her rides home from the market. Helping with ideas for how to sell more product. Sticking around the hospital until the early morning hours to give her and Dat a ride. Being willing to sell pies for her. She turned her head toward the fields, embarrassed by her emotions.

When they reached the house, Carlos held firmly on to one of Dat’s arms while Noelle held on to the other. The first layer of snow was slick, and Noelle held her breath as they propelled Dat to the house. Holly went ahead and opened the door, which Noelle had forgotten to lock.

All three of them got Dat down to his room. He insisted he could change into his pajamas by himself, but Carlos waited at the door in case he got light-headed.

Noelle hurried to the kitchen and filled a box with pies from the refrigerator. “Ten dollars each,” she said.

Holly shook her head. “Fifteen. You’re not charging enough. I know how long it takes to make one of these things.”

Noelle shook her head. “It doesn’t take that long.”

Holly laughed. “Not for you, but for a normal person it would. You have to think about what you’re saving people—not what you put into it.”

Noelle had never thought of setting prices that way before.

Carlos came down the hall and said Dat was in bed. Noelle thanked both of her friends and walked them to the front door, thanking Holly again for taking the pies. She was still flabbergasted at their care and generosity. She would expect it from someone in the family, which hadn’t happened tonight, but not from near strangers. Except Holly and Carlos didn’t feel like strangers.

By the time she checked on Dat, he was asleep. She sat down at the end of his bed and stared at him by the light of his battery-operated lamp. It was much safer for an elderly person than a kerosene one.

What would happen to her if something happened to him? There was no room for her to live with Salome and Ted, especially not with Moriah living there. Paul and LuAnne would let her live with them, but she didn’t want that. It would be out of the question for her to stay in the new house. Salome and Ted would rent it out.

Noelle had been so brokenhearted when her Mamm had died that she hadn’t even considered that Dat might too. Jah, she knew he’d die someday. But hopefully later rather than sooner.

Why couldn’t Salome understand how important it was to have Family Christmas this year? Jah, Mamm had passed on, but Dat still needed all of them. And so did she.


Several times during the short night, Noelle checked on Dat, shining her flashlight over him to make sure he was breathing. He was. Finally, at a quarter after seven, the first light seeped through her window, and she arose to another snowy landscape. On most days she would have already been up for a couple of hours with a fire roaring in the woodstove. Instead, a chill hung throughout the house.

After she’d checked on Dat—who was still sleeping peacefully—she stoked the fire. Then she opened her Advent window from the day before and popped the candy in her mouth. If it were up to her, the chocolate would be her breakfast, but hopefully Dat would feel like eating. She read the reference for the verse. Psalm 5:11. She looked it up in her Bible. But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.

Rejoice. Shout for joy. Love thy name. It had been a long time since she’d felt any of those things. With Dat’s health scare, she was both rejoicing for his life—and fearful of the future. She said a short prayer, asking for God’s healing for Dat.

She waited to start breakfast until Dat finally woke just before ten. He’d never slept that late. Dat didn’t have much of an appetite either, and he only picked at his dippy eggs. After breakfast, he settled down in his chair. Noelle spent most of the rest of the day experimenting with making mini items. More whoopie pies—mint chocolate chip, peanut butter, marshmallow, and raspberry. Creamsticks. Half-moon pies—cherry, apple, and blackberry. And chocolate. Englischers seemed to like chocolate, more than Noelle had realized.

In the early afternoon, LuAnne stopped by with a chicken and broccoli casserole.

She called out a hello to Dat and then followed Noelle into the kitchen. “Moriah came over this morning and said you took Dawdi to the hospital last night.”

Noelle nodded. “He’s doing better. I need to make an appointment with a cardiologist though.”

As LuAnne put the casserole on the counter, she asked, “Ooh, what all are you baking?”

Noelle explained that she was making smaller items to sell at the Christmas Market. She grabbed a plate and filled it with some mini whoopie pies, creamsticks, and moon pies. She wrapped a towel over the top and handed it to LuAnne.

“Denki. Paul will be thrilled. The kids too.” She grinned. “And I already am.” Then her expression grew more serious. “It’s a great idea,” she said. “I think they’ll sell really well.”

Noelle brushed her hands on her apron. “I hope so.”

About an hour after LuAnne left, Salome stopped by. She hovered over Dat for a couple of minutes and was soon satisfied that he was doing better. She joined Noelle in the kitchen.

“LuAnne said you’re making new products.”

Noelle pointed to a box of peanut butter–filled whoopie pies. “Jah. Aren’t they cute?”

Salome rolled her eyes.

“I sold these on Friday—twelve boxes were gone by noon. They were a big hit.”

Salome put her hands into the pockets of her coat, which she hadn’t bothered to take off. She must not be planning to stay long. “Sales have been down.”

Noelle’s face warmed. “I think I can get them back up by selling the new items.”

Salome shook her head. “We’ve had a plan—Mamm’s plan—and it’s worked for years. Maybe it’s your selling that has sales down, not the products.”

Noelle was sure her face was bright red by now. She turned away from her sister and pulled another sheet of mini whoopie pie cookies from the oven.

“They look like those little French things,” Salome said. “Macarons.” She imitated a French accent. Noelle had no idea what she was talking about.

“Stick with what we do best,” Salome insisted.

“Do you plan to go to the market next week?”

Salome shook her head. “My chiropractor told me to take another week off.”

“What about Moriah?”

“She . . .” Salome wrinkled her nose. “Has plans.”

“Someone needs to stay with Dat, then, while I’m at the market,” Noelle said.

“Really?” Salome turned toward him.

“He’s at risk for falling,” Noelle explained. “He didn’t eat or drink enough yesterday, and the ER doc told him to see a cardiologist.”

“That sounds kind of serious.” Salome raised her eyebrows. “Maybe he can go over to LuAnne and Paul’s while you’re at the market. That would be good for Dat—and the kids too.”

Noelle pursed her lips to keep herself from saying anything, but she thought a full day over at LuAnne’s would wear him out. “Or maybe you, Ted, and Moriah could take turns with Dat here.”

Salome sighed. “I’ll let you know.”

Noelle heated the casserole for supper. As she pulled it out of the oven, a knock fell on the door, meaning it wasn’t Salome or Moriah. They’d both walk right in.

She opened it to see Holly’s smiling face, holding up a wad of money and an empty crate. “I sold all of your pies.”

Noelle ushered her into the house. “Denki.”

“And for fifteen dollars apiece.”

Noelle took the money. “Wow.” Holly was a good salesperson, just like Salome.

Holly held up a paper bag. “I also brought you something else. Smaller boxes for your mini whoopie pies. I figure you can sell a half dozen for ten dollars.”

Noelle didn’t think so, but she was interested in the boxes. She took the bag and pulled a box out. It was a fourth the size of the pie boxes.

“Is that your friend?” Dat called out.

“Jah, Dat. It’s Holly.”

“Invite her to eat with us.”

Noelle glanced at Holly. “Would you?”

“Carlos is out in the truck.”

Dat was standing now. “Ask him too.”

Holly gave Noelle a questioning look.

“Jah, we’d really like that,” Noelle said. “We have plenty.”

Both Carlos and Holly yawned several times during supper, and Noelle thought again of them going to the hospital the night before and then working a full day at the market. After they ate the casserole, homemade bread, green beans, and applesauce, Noelle served blackberry half-moon pies.

Holly raved over hers. “You’re selling these too. Right?”

Noelle shrugged. She hadn’t necessarily planned to sell all of the mini items. She wasn’t sure at all if she could stand up to Salome and branch out in a new direction. It wasn’t as if she would be selling at the market for long. She’d soon be back to solely doing the baking, putting Salome back in charge.

Why was it so hard to stand up to her sister about both the market and the Family Christmas? Why was it so hard for Noelle to stand up to anyone? She’d been taught her entire life to defer to her older sisters, especially Salome. But it was more than that. She’d been cocooned in the safety of Mamm’s shadow too, to the point she didn’t know what to do when times grew hard.

She felt a wave of helplessness crash over her again, just as she had when Jesse left. When Mamm was sick and then dying. When she couldn’t wake Dat.

As Holly and Carlos put their coats on, Dat spoke up from the table. “Do either of you know of a hall that might be available on Christmas? For our family gathering?”

Holly tapped the side of her face. “Have you tried local churches? I know ours does a dinner for the needy on Christmas, but others might be available.”

“That’s a good idea.” Dat turned toward Noelle. “Could you look into that?”

She nodded.

“Oh, I almost forgot. Jesse said to tell you hello.” She turned toward Dat. “And he wanted you to know that he’s praying for you.”

Dat nodded in gratitude. “I always liked that Jesse.”

Holly gave Noelle a sly smile and whispered, “Will you ever tell me the story behind all of this?”

Carlos elbowed her.

Noelle patted her friend on the shoulder. “If I ever tell the story, you’ll be the first to hear it.”

After she’d closed the door behind her friends, Noelle stood for a moment. The truth was, however, that it was a story that ended long ago. There was nothing more to tell.

The next morning, Noelle climbed out of bed to find big fluffy flakes falling in the darkness, piling upon the snow that already covered the ground. Noelle expected to spend another quiet day with Dat, but he said he was feeling much better. After he led the two of them in the closing prayer after breakfast, he said, “How about if we visit Ben and Barbara this afternoon? He invited us last Sunday. They’re having a group over for coffee in the early afternoon.”

Noelle stood and grabbed their plates. What was Dat doing? Didn’t he know she didn’t want to see Jesse?

On the other hand, it would be good for Dat to get out of the house—as long as he really did feel up to it.

Dat stood and leaned against his cane. “Noelle? What do you think?”

“Let’s see how you feel after dinner.”

He seemed to have even more energy after they finished their noon meal, so Noelle bundled up to go out and harness the horse.

Dat stood at the window. “The plows have been by. We need to take the buggy, not the sleigh.”

Noelle agreed.

An hour later, when they reached Ben and Barbara’s house, Noelle stopped the carriage by the walk to the back door. Ben bounded outside, and Noelle expected him to help Dat up the walkway, but instead he said he’d take care of the horse for her. Grateful, Noelle took Dat’s arm and they made their way to the back door. The cold stung her face as she walked, but she found it invigorating. Although she dreaded who she might find inside the house.

Barbara swung the door open and ushered them inside. Noelle quickly scanned the room. Jesse wasn’t among the group that gathered.

Relieved, she relaxed a little. After a while, the men drifted into the living room while the women stayed in the kitchen, gathered around the table. Several asked how Salome was doing. Only Barbara knew about Dat’s visit to the hospital because, it turned out, Jesse had told them. Noelle shared more about that with all of the women, even though she hated being the center of attention. But it was easier when she was talking about someone else.

A baby’s cry interrupted the conversation.

“Oh, the baby’s awake.” Barbara jumped to her feet. “I’ll be right back.”

Noelle inhaled sharply. Maybe Jesse wasn’t at the house, but his daughter was.

A few minutes later, Barbara returned with the baby in her arms. She headed straight for Noelle. “Would you hold Greta while I heat up a bottle?”

Noelle couldn’t say no as Barbara rolled the baby into her arms. Greta. It was a beautiful name. Immediately Greta began to cry. Noelle had had so much practice with nieces and nephews that she knew exactly what to do. She stepped to the window and began swaying with the baby. Greta just needed to be distracted until she could eat.

Noelle lifted the baby to her shoulder, aware of Greta’s weight against her chest. She felt as if her heart was being crushed and wondered what the other women thought. As she searched their faces, none of them seemed to be aware of the heaviness she felt. Had they all forgotten she and Jesse used to court? Did they assume that she was long over it?

Greta continued to cry, and Noelle patted the baby’s back and swayed back and forth until the crying faded away. A few minutes later, Barbara strode across the room, just as the teakettle started to whistle. She handed Noelle the bottle and then nodded toward the rocking chair. “Would you?”

Noelle took the bottle and made her way to the chair, holding on to the baby with the other hand. As she sat down, Greta started to cry again. Noelle quickly positioned the nipple into Greta’s mouth, and the baby drank voraciously. As she calmed down, her eyes met Noelle’s. The baby’s were still an inky blue. Maybe they’d lighten up like her father’s. Or perhaps her mother had brown eyes and they’d change to that. Greta smiled for a quick moment and then kept sucking.

“You’re a natural.”

Noelle lifted her head. A woman who was new to the district had spoken. Noelle simply smiled at her, but a look of confusion passed over Barbara’s face as she stood at the stove, watching the scene unfold. Perhaps she hadn’t given Noelle the baby on purpose.

Noelle’s gaze fell back on Greta. What was it about a baby—any baby—that was so magnetizing? She leaned down and brushed her nose over the top of Greta’s head. She smelled of baby shampoo and lotion. Noelle sat up straight again and leaned back against the chair, drawing the baby closer.

When Greta had finished eating, Noelle burped her and then settled her on her lap. The weight of the baby planted her firmly in the present. For the first time since she saw Jesse in the market, her thoughts weren’t flitting to the past.

But then Noelle heard footsteps on the back porch. Jesse stepped into the kitchen, his hat in his hand, and froze when his gaze fell on Noelle and Greta.


When the baby saw Jesse, she giggled and then reached out to him.

“Just a minute, Boppli,” he said and then retreated to the mudroom.

Greta began to fuss. As much as Noelle wanted to pass her off to someone else, she didn’t want to make a scene. Instead, she began rocking again, which calmed Greta. But when Jesse reentered the kitchen, without his hat and coat, the baby began to cry.

Noelle stood, balancing the baby in her arms as she did, and nodded toward the rocking chair as she met Jesse’s gaze. “She wants you.”

Jesse smiled as he approached. “Denki for feeding her.” He gently scooped the baby, along with her bottle, from Noelle. The sensation of his touch against her arms sent a shiver down Noelle’s spine. She ducked her head, but then, as he settled down in the rocker with the baby, her gaze couldn’t help but return to him.

He was a natural when it came to the little one. Noelle always knew Jesse King would be a good father.

As Noelle tried not to stare, a group of the men came into the kitchen, ready to go. Their wives thanked Barbara, and then one by one, the group left.

Dat and Ben, however, stayed in the living room.

Greta was now “standing” on Jesse’s lap, tugging on his lower lip. He’d laugh and then she’d giggle. Then she began pulling on his beard.

When Barbara slipped into the living room, Jesse turned the baby around and sat her down on his lap. He splayed his fingers out for her to play with. It was obvious he spent a lot of time with her.

Jesse met Noelle’s gaze. “How’s your Dat?”

She looked away. “Better.” She could feel his eyes on her.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation last Sunday.”

Noelle held her breath. If she didn’t respond, would he stop talking?

Apparently not. “I really did hear you were done with me, that you didn’t want me to come home.”

“I never said that.” Noelle raised her head. “Who would have told you that?”

“Actually,” Jesse said as Barbara came back into the room, “Aenti did.”

“What did I do?” Barbara stopped in the middle of the kitchen, a smile on her face.

Jesse sighed. “I’m putting you on the spot.”

Barbara put her hand on her hip, a smile still on her face. “I don’t mind.”

“You told me Noelle was done with me,” Jesse said, “when I was in Montana.”

She nodded her head. “Jah, I did tell you that. Everyone knew it.”

Everyone? Noelle’s heart nearly stopped. She took a raggedy breath and looked at Barbara. “Who told you that’s what I’d said?”

Barbara tilted her head. “I’m not sure.” She shrugged. “It was common knowledge, I think.” She continued to the stove, grabbed the coffeepot, and then headed back into the living room.

Noelle struggled to breathe. This so-called common knowledge had ended Noelle’s life as she’d known it and changed her future forever.

Jesse, his face pale, leaned toward her. “See?”

Noelle bristled. “If that’s what you were told, why didn’t you write?”

A pained expression passed over Jesse’s face.

“Or call? You had to suspect that what your Aenti said could be gossip.”

He shook his head. “I did write.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

He shook his head a little. “Well, then it doesn’t really matter, does it? You were so mad the last time I saw you before I left that I believed what I was told.”

“My Mamm had just had a stroke, and you decided to go to Montana anyway. Of course I was mad.”

“Jah, but you didn’t do anything to make me think you wanted me to come back.”

Noelle’s head begin to spin. It all made sense now. She’d just assumed that the girls in Montana were a lot more fun than she was. And he used what Barbara had told him to justify going forward with his life—without Noelle.

She managed to stand, make her way into the living room, and quietly tell Dat they needed to go home. She couldn’t spend another minute with Jesse King.

More snow fell Sunday night, and on Monday, after breakfast, Noelle had to shovel her way to the phone shed to call the cardiologist, a Dr. Chris Morrison. She was able to get an appointment for Dat the next Tuesday, so she called Pamela and arranged for a ride. Then she did the laundry in the old wringer washer they’d brought from the Dawdi Haus and hung it out on the line that ran on a pulley from the back porch to the pole in the yard.

When Dat settled down for a nap, Noelle headed toward Salome’s with the casserole pan for LuAnne and the money from the Christmas Market sales from the week before, including what Holly had given her. Salome did all of the bookkeeping and would need to make the deposits, then she’d pay Noelle her percentage from the business.

When Noelle arrived at the Dawdi Haus, her heart swelled a little. Would it always feel like home to her? It was where she’d grown up. Where Jesse had courted her. Where she’d nursed her own broken heart. There were so many memories wrapped up here.

Was the end of their relationship truly due to gossip going around their district? Something Barbara had heard and relayed to Jesse? Noelle felt ill at the thought.

She knocked again, and Salome finally answered the door but didn’t invite Noelle inside, which seemed odd. Noelle handed her the envelope of money and then asked if she could speak to Moriah.

“She’s not available,” Salome said, which wasn’t a phrase she normally used either.

“Would you ask her if she would help me bake tomorrow?”

Salome pursed her lips. “Are you going to follow Mamm’s plan about the products?”

“Am I working at the market on Thursday?”

Salome nodded.

“I think, perhaps . . .” Noelle’s voice was so low she could barely hear it. She cleared her throat. “I believe I will be selling some of the mini items again.”

“The business will be ruined by the time my back is healed.” Salome shook her head and then closed the door.

Stunned, Noelle headed toward the farmhouse. What was going on with Salome? She didn’t want to celebrate Family Christmas. She wanted to be completely in charge of the baking business. She was ignoring Dat’s condition. She’d practically just slammed her door in Noelle’s face. And she was being secretive about something.

Tears threatened to flow as Noelle took a deep breath and pushed through the back gate of the farmhouse. She’d come the closest she ever had to standing up to Salome, only to be shut down. She traipsed through the snow up to the porch and knocked softly. Perhaps LuAnne was napping while the little ones did.

However, after a couple of minutes, she came to the door with her two-year-old, Willy, on her hip. Noelle followed her inside, thanking her for the casserole and putting the pan on the counter.

The farmhouse was over a century old with the original hardwood floors, molding, and fireplace. Ted and Salome had put in new kitchen cabinets and a new woodstove, which still barely kept the drafty place warm. The Dawdi Haus and now the new house were both much better insulated. But LuAnne loved the old house and Noelle loved that about her.

“I was wondering if you’d heard anything about using the school for Family Christmas?” Noelle asked.

“I asked when I dropped the kids off,” LuAnne said. “It’s already been claimed for Christmas Day by another family.”

Noelle’s heart fell. “Any other ideas?”

LuAnne shook her head. “You could call some of the nearby churches. Like the Mennonite one that’s close by. Maybe they could help us out.”

Noelle nodded, thinking of what Holly had suggested. She hated making phone calls, but she’d force herself to do it.

“I have another question to ask you.” She explained about how Dat couldn’t be left alone, at least not for long, and she needed to work at the market this week.

“I’ll work it out with Salome and Moriah,” LuAnne promised. “I’ll take responsibility to make sure someone is with him.”

Noelle thanked her. That was a big worry off her shoulders.

She stopped by the phone shed on the way back and pulled out the phone book, going through the Mennonite church listings. Finally she found the one closest to them. She took a deep breath and dialed the number, then managed to explain her request to the woman who answered.

“I’m sorry,” the woman said. “Another family is having their gathering at the church that day.”

Noelle thanked the woman and hung up the phone. She called the other two nearby churches and got the same answer.

She arrived at the market on Thursday morning with her boxes of mini whoopie pies, half-moon pies, and creamsticks, along with an assortment of regular-sized pies. Holly wasn’t in her booth; instead, Carlos was setting everything up.

“Where’s my twin?” Noelle asked, surprising herself with how light and cheery she sounded.

Carlos grinned. “She’s taking her last final.”

Noelle didn’t know what else to say. She knew a “final” was an exam, but she had no idea how difficult it was or what it really meant.

“She’s going to take the bus later.”

Noelle wished she could just watch their booth so Carlos could pick Holly up, but she knew it would be hard to manage if it got busy. And hopefully it would.

At first it wasn’t, and the morning dragged along. Carlos stepped back to Jesse’s booth. The two must have joked about something because soon they were both laughing. The sound of Jesse’s laughter was like a stab to her heart. She’d missed it.

On Sunday, on her way home from Ben and Barbara’s with Dat, after the revealing conversation with Jesse, Noelle wondered if Jesse had been out courting someone that day. Once again, he’d find someone he’d have more fun with, someone more outgoing than she was. He’d probably had dinner at some girl’s house or, if she was in a different district, attended church with her. He wouldn’t stay single for long, which would be a blessing. The sooner he was married again, the better—for all of them.

It was almost noon by the time Holly showed up. First she oohed and aahed over Noelle’s new products. And then she claimed to be good luck because business actually picked up.

One customer bought three boxes of Noelle’s mini whoopie pies. Then a man bought ten of the half-moon pies, saying he was taking them back to his co-workers. He grinned. “They’ll owe me big-time.”

Another customer came specifically for a pie and asked Noelle if she could make five more for Christmas. Noelle said she could, as long as the woman could pick them up on Christmas Eve. Noelle wrote down the woman’s order and then gave her the address of the new house. Then she smiled at the woman and said, “Merry Christmas!”

The woman smiled back and thanked her profusely.

Noelle wouldn’t tell Salome about the special order. She’d only be critical of another new business idea.

“What was that about?” Holly asked from across the aisle.

“Pies for Christmas.”

“Ooh, you’re branching out.”

Noelle gave her a sassy smile.

“And enjoying it. Your customer service has really improved, ya know?”

Noelle ducked her head at the compliment, but Holly was right. She’d made the new sale without a second thought. And she liked the customer. She was beginning to like all of the customers, to her surprise.

Jesse walked by her booth in the midafternoon. Noelle was afraid he might stop and talk with her, but he went across the aisle and started chatting with Carlos.

“Dude,” Carlos said. “Have you still not sold anything?”

“You mean besides that hope chest that just got hauled out of here?” Jesse responded.

He’d made one for Noelle all those years ago. She turned her head away from the two, trying to stop the memory, and prayed for a customer.

“Maybe you should make something smaller—like Christmas ornaments,” Carlos joked.

That actually wasn’t a bad idea. Although it would be a waste of Jesse’s skills to do that. She turned toward them. “How about little rocking chairs and chests? For kids?”

Jesse took a step backward while Holly turned toward her, even though she’d been talking to a customer. “Did you just say something? To Jesse?”

Noelle swallowed hard, trying to think of something witty to say. Nothing came, but thankfully Jesse found his voice. “That’s a great idea. In fact, I just finished a rocking chair for Greta. I’ll try to sell it and make her another one.”

With Holly back in the booth, Carlos spent most of his time hanging out with Jesse or running errands for Holly. Getting her food from the kitchen area. A glass of water. Bringing another plastic crate of chocolates from the truck.

By late afternoon, Noelle had sold almost all of the whoopie pies and half-moon pies and most of the creamsticks. She still had five more large pies to sell. When Steve walked by, she handed him a berry one.

“Yours are the best pies,” he said in a whisper as he pulled a ten and a five from his wallet.

She shook her head. “Let me give it to you.”

He grinned. “I insist on paying. My family is going to be ecstatic.” He balanced the pie in one hand and turned his baseball cap around with the other. That seemed to be the sign that he was ready to close up the market for the day.

A half hour later, Noelle crated the remaining three pies, four boxes of creamsticks, and the two half-moon pies that were left. As she worked, Holly’s phone rang. The girl pushed a button, held it up to her ear, and said, “Hi, Mama! How are you?”

Then she listened.

Then she started speaking in Spanish. Finally she said, in English, “I’ll talk to Carlos. TTYS. Love you!”

A stab of jealousy speared Noelle’s heart. If only she had her mother to talk to now. To tell her about Salome not wanting to do Family Christmas. To confide in her about Jesse coming back. To worry with her about Dat’s possible health problems.

Shame filled her. It wasn’t right to be jealous. But there had been so many times she had been. Jealous when Moriah married. Jealous of the girl who dated Jesse. Jealous of so many things. She’d been consumed with it.

Noelle’s heart hurt. Was she going to be that person? One consumed with jealousy? With ill will for others?

Holly hadn’t packed her candles yet. They still sat on the counter—the